A LAST gasp point from Conor Kenny ensured Kildare were crowned Leinster Under 21 A champions in Newbridge last night (Wednesday). A dramatic ending to this final encounter saw the Celbridge man fire over from out right to sneak victory after visitors Meath thought they had sent the game to extra time just second earlier when Mark Sullivan split the posts down the other end, writes Ruth Chambers.
Leinster Under 21 A Hurling Championship Final
For a long time in the second half Kildare, managed by Noel McMahon, looked to be headed for defeat. However, a goal from Naas man Philip Cocoman in the 49th minute put a spring back in the Lilies’ step as they finally came to life. The goal left them trailing by just the minimum (2-10 to 1-14) but it took Kildare a further ten minutes to restore parity.
On a dark evening in Newbridge extra time could have caused havoc so the young Lilies decided to take care of business and sneak a win over their Leinster rivals. In the first minute of stoppage time Conor Kenny thought he had secured victory. Philip Cocoman was impeded and Kenny split the posts from the resultant free but Meath immediately responded through Sullivan. Referee Maurice Flynn would have been forgiven for blowing the full time whistle there and then as a draw would have probably been a fair result but that didn’t happen. Kildare goalkeeper Cormac Gallagher took the puck out and King Kenny was on the end of it. The Celbridge senior star was a cool as a breeze as he let fly from out on the right wing and the sliothar sailed over Conor Murray’s cross bar and the Leinster title was Kildare’s for the first time since 2009.
For the most part Kildare were flat and indeed they trailed 1-10 to 1-6 at the interval. A goal from Naas man Conor O’Hehir early on kept them in touch but they didn’t seem to be able to peg the Royals back. Luckily though they did it later on when it mattered most.
The visitors were the first team on the score sheet in the opening minute when Trim’s Damien McGee collected possession from Anthony Healy before striking over and indeed they doubled their lead soon after when midfield man Stephen Morris got in on the scoring act.
Kildare opened their account with four minutes on the clock when O’Hehir converted a free from some 45 metres out and they were soon level when the same player sent over a ‘65’.
The Lilies then hit the front for the first time. A free from goalkeeper Cormac Gallagher made it’s way to O’Hehir and the grandson of the late, great Michael O’Hehir, made no mistake in finding the net to give his side a 1-2 to 0-2 lead after seven minutes.
By the 12th minute however, Meath were back in front. Three points in a row from the excellent James Toher gave them a 0-6 to 1-2 lead and they enjoyed the better of the exchanges for the remainder of the half.
With five minutes remaining until the break the Royal still led by one (0-9 to 1-15) but before they break they stretched that lead further. A goal from Anthony Healy, followed by a Toher point gave them a 1-10 to 1-6 interlude advantage. Their goal came on 30 minutes when Mark Sullivan’s shot was saved well by Gallagher but the loose ball was sent to the net by Anthony Healy despite the best efforts of Clane’s Ryan McGrath on the line.
After the turnaround Meath quickly added to their advantage and led 1-11 to 1-6 but a point from a free from O’Hehir pulled one back for the Lilies in the 34th minute of play.
O’Hehir then made it a three point game with yet another converted free after Conor Kenny was fouled but Meath answered when Adam Gannon cut in from the left and split the posts.
By the end of the third quarter the visitors led 1-14 to 1-10 and Kildare certainly weren’t firing on all cylinders. However, it took just one score to reignite the Lilies’ fire.
In the 49th minute Noel McMahon’s side put themselves right back in contention and they had Philip Cocoman to thank when he hit the onion bag and left the Lilies trailing by just one (1-14 to 2-10).
Meath grabbed the next score, a point from captain Tom Raleigh but the next two scores went the way of the Kildare and the sides were level (2-12 to 1-15) with one minutes of normal time remaining.
And then came the drama! In the first minute of time added on Cocoman was fouled by James Kelly and Conor Kenny made no mistake with the free but much to the relief of Kelly his team mate Mark Sullivan went down the other end and levelled it up once again.
Extra time beckoned. Or so we thought. Conor Kenny only had victory on his mind and when he let fly with a shot from the right wing and delivered the good, delivered the winner and delivered the title for the Lilies.
Kildare will now play Munster champions Kerry in the All Ireland semi final on Saturday, August 25.
Scorers: Kildare – Conor O’Hehir 1-5 (4f, 1 ‘65’), Conor Kenny 0-6 (1 ‘65’, 1f), Philip Cocoman 1-0, Ross Kelly 0-2, Kevin Whelan 0-1.
Meath – James Toher 0-9 (6f), Anthony Healy 1-0, Mark Sullivan 0-2, Damien McGee 0-1, Stephen Morris 0-1, James Kelly 0-1, Adam Gannon 0-1, Tom Raleigh 0-1.
Kildare: Cormac Gallagher; Ryan McGrath, Mark Carter, Darrach MacDonnadha; Sean Christiansen, Mick Purcell, Shane O’Flynn; Kevin Whelan, Ross Kelly; Declan Flaherty, Conor Kenny, Philip Cocoman; Conor O’Hehir, Mark Delaney, Sean Gainey. Subs: Liam McDonagh replaced K Whelan HT, Ross Bergin replaced S Christiansen HT, Ryan Casey replaced D Flaherty 48 mins, Fiachra Lohan replaced C O’Hehir (inj) 56 mins.
Meath: Conor Murray; David Foley, Niall Weir, Padraig Maguire; James Kelly, Damien Healy, Tom Raleigh; James Toher, Stephen Morris; Mark Sullivan, Shane Brennan, Damien McGee; Adam Gannon, Anthony Healy, Padraig Conneely. Subs: Ciaran Fitzsimmons replaced D Foley 54 mins, Anthony Hynes replaced A Healy 59 mins.
Referee: Maurice Flynn (Kilkenny).